By Jeff Pederson
for The Beacon
A highly intricate, cohesively executed collaborative rescue effort between four Sheboygan County area fire departments, which worked to save three lives last August, garnered the Sheboygan County Technical Rescue Team a Hometown Hero Award during a Wisconsin State Assembly session at the State Capitol in Madison on Tuesday, Jan. 21.
The Sheboygan County Technical Rescue Team, which includes representatives from the city of Sheboygan Falls, town of Sheboygan Falls, village of Cedar Grove and city of Sheboygan fire departments, was nominated for the award after Sheboygan County Sheriff Cory Roeseler submitted a letter to state Rep. Tyler Vorpagel (R-Plymouth) and state Rep. Terry Katsma (R-Oostburg) recommending the team as a nominee for saving the lives of three individuals who were trapped in a grain silo at the Cargill malting facility in Sheboygan on Aug. 6, 2019.
While the first two individuals in danger were standard rescues, the third rescue required problem solving and thinking outside the box. With innovative and quick thinking, Sheboygan County Technical Rescue Team members were able to save the lives of all three individuals trapped in the silo.
“Around 10:30 a.m. that morning there was a 911 call placed for persons trapped inside a grain silo and one was buried up to his neck,” Kesweder said. “The city of Sheboygan Fire Department responded and immediately requested the Sheboygan County Technical Rescue Team. Within minutes, the first team member arrived on scene and updated the incoming units on the situation and asked that they bring the ‘Great Wall of Rescue,’ which is made up of several interlocking aluminum panels that slide together to create a coffer dam around the patient.
“With the wall in place, several methods can be used to evacuate the grain from around the patient and within minutes, they can be freed,” he said. “The first-in crew worked on the first and second persons trapped as they needed very little work and they were quickly freed from the grain. The third person was in much deeper and required more time.”
Kesweder credited city of Sheboygan Fire Department Lt. Kurt Miller for making quick, life-saving decisions in the early stages of the rescue.
“Lieutenant Kurt Miller of City of Sheboygan Fire was the first to make contact with the persons in the silo,” Kesweder said. “He quickly noticed that the one party was buried up to his neck and the grain was continuing to move and would eventually cover his head, which would have suffocated him.
“The second person trapped inside the silo laid down in such a way to slow down the grain from encapsulating the third party, which ultimately saved his life,” he said. “Firefighter Miller asked for the bottom of a 5-gallon pail that was outside the silo, to be cut out. He passed the bucket inside and one of the persons trapped managed to get the bucket over the third parties head, which bought valuable time. “
Kesweder indicated that members of the Sheboygan County Technical Rescue Team worked swiftly and cohesively to produce a positive outcome.
“When the first crew of the Tech Rescue Team made entry, the grain was near at the top of the bucket,” Kesweder said. “There were several issues that made the rescue a challenge, so it took longer to rescue the third person. However, the wall was in place quickly and within minutes the grain was brought down to his knees. The team continued to work and eventually the third party was rescued from the silo and transported to a local hospital for a minor injury. All three employees were back to work by the next day.”
According to Kesweder, it was not the first time the Sheboygan County Technical Rescue Team had executed a silo rescue.
“Although the team was being awarded for this rescue, they were no stranger to silo rescues,” Kesweder said. “In March 2015, a teenager working inside a silo had his leg severely injured. A deputy and Wisconsin state patrolman were first on scene. The deputy used his own tourniquet to stop the bleeding and the Sheboygan County Technical Rescue Team arrived shortly after.
“They stabilized the teen and packaged him for the ride of his life,” he said. “Lifted straight out the top of a 80-foot silo using the city of Sheboygan Falls ladder truck, he was lowered to the ground and transported to a hospital. Over the years, the team has rescued six people from silos and one person involved in a car crash where the vehicle landed in the water upside down.”
The Sheboygan County Technical Rescue Team is made up of volunteer firefighters and first responders, meeting once every month to train on different rescue scenarios, including grain bin rescue.
“Thanks to the training, experience, and dedication of the Sheboygan emergency responders, three people were able to walk away from an accident that very well could have been deadly,” said Wisconsin Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), who selected them for the award. “Their bravery and ability to think and act quickly is making their community a safer and better place.”
Though calls are sporadic, the team stays trained and readily available any time a call comes in. Their training prepared them for the four-hour rescue needed on Aug. 6, 2019.
“These men and women spend many thankless hours training to be ready for anything and preparing to put their own lives on the line when their neighbors are in need,” said Rep. Katsma. “It is my great privilege to recognize them with the Hometown Hero Award – the state Assembly’s highest honor – for their courage and selfless dedication to their duty.”
“I am glad that the Wisconsin State Assembly chose to recognize the Sheboygan County Technical Rescue Team for their dedication to training and their response to situations across the county that require their expertise to save lives,” said Rep. Vorpagel. “Their Hometown Hero Award today recognizes a recent incident they responded to that resulted in three individuals who were trapped in a malting silo in Sheboygan being saved.”
According to Kesweder, origin of the Sheboygan County Technical Rescue Team dates back 15 years.
“Initially, the city of Sheboygan Falls Fire Department entered into an agreement with Bemis Manufacturing for a Confined Space Rescue Team,” Kesweder said. “Bemis purchased $30,000 of rescue equipment for the fire department and paid for their training. City of Sheboygan Falls Fire Department members practiced on Tuesday evenings in confined space rescue back in late 2005.
“In 2009, SFFD approached the town of Falls Fire Department and asked if they would like to work together,” he said. “This was a great arrangement because the town of Falls Fire Department had been involved in rope rescue since the late 1970s. While working out the details, the idea of inviting Cedar Grove Fire Department was put on the table and before long all three departments began training together every third Monday of each month. Four years ago, the city of Sheboygan Fire Department approached the team and asked if they could watch our team train. After observing several practice sessions the Sheboygan Fire Department realized the team was well trained and well equipped. So, for the last three years now all four departments have been training together every month.”
Since its inception in 2005, the Sheboygan County Technical Rescue Team has expanded in size and range to include a wide range of public safety and emergency rescue personnel with varied rescue skills and abilities.
“The team initially set out to provide a very unique service for their own communities and were available to help others, if needed,” Kesweder said. “Since then, the team has broadened their skill set to include confined space, high angle rope, low angle rope, ice, swift water and now trench rescue.
“In 2011, the Sheboygan County Law Enforcement Dive Team approached the city of Sheboygan Falls, town of Sheboygan Falls and village of Cedar Grove fire departments to ask if the dive team could start training with the technical rescue team to utilize their rope skills for dive calls,” he said. “In late 2011 early 2012 the Sheboygan County Technical Rescue Team and Kohler Fire Department merged with the dive team, which also include Plymouth Fire and Ambulance. A few years ago, the Sheboygan Fire Department joined in and now we have divers from the fire service, law enforcement and correctional officers from Sheboygan County.”
The Wisconsin State Assembly Hometown Heroes program seeks to identify and recognize individuals from around the state who give of themselves to make a difference in our communities and in the lives of those around them.